By MIDGE PIERCE
At a Historic Resource Code Project amendment hearing on December 15, City Council heard from Portlanders split over the values of preservation versus densification. When Council approved all but one amendment, both sides could take virtual victory laps for promoting protections of historically significant properties in under-represented communities (City news release).
Where groups differ is how to achieve parity and affordability in a challenging housing market.
Many pro-growth advocates seek de-listing of historical properties in what they claim are traditionally wealthy, restrictive neighborhoods to make way for denser, lower cost housing. Those in favor of preserving and expanding historic designations cite adaptive re-use of existing buildings as a way to protect culture and affordability throughout Portland including historically marginalized neighborhoods.
The amendments that will be added to HRCP’s final mid-January vote include increasing square footage in historic and conservation mixed use zones by adding 10 foot height bonuses; considering the economic and social well-being of minorities when seeking demolition reviews in under-represented historic areas; and retaining high standard qualifications for members of the Historic Landmarks Commission.
An amendment to reinforce HLC’s historic authority failed. Instead, HLC will share oversight with the Portland Sustainability Commission for designation and removal of historic properties.
Loosening historic regulations is of particular concern to current historic place residents. They fear delistings would result in demolitions of iconic older homes in Portland’s classic neighborhoods.
Demolition concern is also fueled by another code change— Residential Infill Project Part 2. RIP 2 is literally racing down the pike. Yet, in the shadow of HRCP’s final review phase, RIP 2 has taken some watchdogs by surprise. Infill and historic listings are related because of the cause and effect between designations and demolitions, development and densification.
RIP 2 builds on RIP 1’s elimination of single family residential zones. The controversial, years-in-the-making RIP 1 allows duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes on most R-5 and smaller lots. RIP 2 would allow so-called middle housing, six-plexes and cottage clusters on larger, low-density lots.
With little fanfare or notice, the RIP 2 code change proposal began in September quickly after RIP 1’s August implementation. Given the City’s well-oiled builder connections, the pro-development lobby was ready for a December 14 Planning and Sustainability Commission hearing with well-organized testimony that met with little opposition.
A phalanx of Portland Neighbors’ Welcome supporters made recommendations for six-plex and four-plex simplification and flexibility plus bonus detached ADU allowances to encourage equitable homeownership.
Sightline’s Michael Andersen claimed that smaller, cheaper homes have bigger yards able to accommodate double ADUs, a concept also backed by the Build Small Coalition. Planning Commissioners later indicated infrastructure reviews were needed to determine how to handle water lines for detached backyard structures.
Urban designer Heather Flint Chatto introduced conceptualization for Art Farm, a model for affordable tiny houses on wheels. She also advocated for internal conversions of existing housing.
BPS Commission chair Eli Spevak remarked that people were trying to figure out how to save homes while still adding new housing.
Multiple testifiers called for removing exemptions in West Hills fire hazard overlays. Several defined the dilemma of keeping people safe versus rectifying Portland’s racist past.
RIP 2 is clearly on a fast track. BPS will make final recommendations to City Council this winter, followed by Council’s final public hearing and decision-making in the spring.
Portlanders can learn more, sign up for updates and submit written testimony via the MapApp by going here.
Midge Pierce is a recovering media consultant and personality who worked from East to West Coast Coast on newspapers, in TV for network and public television affiliates and for cable programmer Starz where she ran a channel for young people known as tweens. She is currently a semi-retired freelance writer in SE Portland enjoying time spent with grandkids. She is passionate about finding balance between old Portland and new.